Notre Dame And Tomorrow

As I write this, Notre Dame in Paris is burning. Overall, the outlook isn't good. By the time you read this, we will know quite a bit more, hopefully, about the cause of, as well as the damage caused by this massive and historic blaze.

I for one am solidly of two minds when it comes to how to respond to this tragedy. The cornerstone of the cathedral was set in 1163, more than 850 years ago, and as an architectural wonder, the building spans ten centuries of Western culture, civilization and history. It has survived the French Revolution, and both World Wars. Along with so many other locations, it is an undisputed icon of the Parisian cityscape. As someone with French ancestry, even if I've never been to France, I'm devastated and heartbroken at this loss. Regardless of how much of the structure is spared or how much is rebuilt, this fire has absolutely devastated the site, and Paris will never be the same. The building, as it was on April 14th, is gone forever, and that is a nearly incalculable tragedy.

On the other hand, and form a Christian viewpoint, is it truly such a tragedy?

There is no doubt Roman Catholics will answer this question with a resounding "Yes!", and I would never begrudge that of them, but as the church was built before the Great Reformation if the 1500's protestants as well have a shared history and shared experience to wrestle with when thinking about the church. Even if this shared history includes the time Huguenot protestants rioted and damaged many of the statues in the cathedral calling them "Idolatrous". But even this shared history, as I sit here, in my favourite coffee shop, writing about a smouldering icon and ruin half a world away, cannot stop me from thinking the same thing over and over again: "It's just a building. It's only a collection of stone and wood." My inner historian and designer are raging at me even as I type that, but my inner theologian is holding them back saying: "Nah man, he's not wrong."

Or maybe I'm just more gnostic in my theology than I thought.

If I'm honest, I don't know what to think. Humanity has lost a beautiful part of its history, but I think the larger loss is that the Church, not the one in Paris, is itself more beautiful than any building, and it does not attract the same kind of visitors, and tourism as that great cathedral does.

At the risk of sounding like I'm writing click-bait or capitalizing on a tragedy for views, I want to say that I'm genuinely conflicted about this. This isn't one of those posts where I've had a long-standing position or a long time to think and wrestle through issues. This is very much a "thinking out loud" kind of post. The Church; the real one, the one made of people ought to be so much more beautiful, so much more attractive than any collection of stone and wood and metal. We are meant to be known by our love, not our architecture. Should we not, then lament and mourn the loss of this reality all the more? The Church in Acts 2, and the Church today look very different. We've become organizations, charities, and political movements (Not unlike the Huguenots come to think of it). I fear the Church has lost its first love, and as I recall my Revelation 2 that's not a good thing to lose.

We, the church, are meant to be Heralds of something greater. Greater than ourselves, greater than whatever we love from this world, and certainly greater than any history we may lose touch with.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I weep for Notre Dame, but I weep for the Church more.

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